2015 Subaru Outback Review

Getting Dirty in the Outback

2015 Subaru Outback Review

Station wagons are generally unpopular and they tend to lead rough lives. Meet the latest redheaded stepchild of the U.S. auto market: the 2015 Subaru Outback.


Engine: 2.5L boxer four makes 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, 3.6L flat six makes 256 hp and 247 lb-ft.

Transmission: CVT.

Fuel economy: 2.5L: 25/33/28 MPG. 3.6L: 20/27/22 MPG (City/Highway/Combined).

Price: $25,745 to start and $33,845 for the 3.6-liter flat six in “Limited” trim.

Only a handful of manufacturers plan to continue pushing wagons here in the foreseeable future and the list of lifted, trail-capable options is even smaller. Audi offers the Allroad for somewhere between $41,000 and $50,000. There’s also the Volvo XC70. It starts over $38,000 for an all-wheel drive model, but that isn’t exactly inexpensive either.

If that tidy sum seems like too much, Subaru’s Outback might be just right. It enters a fifth generation for the 2015 model year and retails for $25,745 for the four-cylinder base model and $33,845 for the 3.6-liter flat six in “Limited” trim. Since its introduction in 1994, the Subaru Outback slowly gathered a cult following of owners who swear by their cars in a manner tantamount to a scouts honor.

Subaru is a small, conservative company that rarely makes snap decisions and the Outback is one of its best sellers in its biggest market: the U.S. Consequently the company went about designing the latest version with care. After all, the previous generation was a smash-hit with double the sales of its predecessor.


The Long Road Since Dundee

You might remember Subaru’s initial marketing campaign for the Outback. I do and at the time I was memorizing multiplication tables and stressing over spelling tests. In case you’re one of the people who mutes commercials, the spots featured Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) in an Outback fleeing from a couple of bumbling bad guys. The campaign achieved two things. First, it left everyone feeling confused about whether Subaru was Australian. Second, it cemented the Outback in my and ostensibly millions of other people’s grey matter.

Quite a bit changed since the mid-‘90s. Bill is out and Hillary is (trying to be) in, boy bands are stuck in the backchannels of karaoke booklets and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is back in the limelight.


The Outback is still being sold, but it’s far from being the same as it was back then. Subaru expanded it in the previous generation to be larger than it was before. This time around, the exterior measurements are basically the same, but Subaru increased cabin volume 2.7 cubic feet by lowering the load floor.  The most significant change has to do with how power travels to the wheels.

Incoming Transmissions

Starting with the 2015 model year, Subaru is selling the Outback exclusively with a continuously variable transmission. Actually there are two CVTs: a smaller unit for the 2.5-liter four-cylinder models and separate unit with higher torque tolerance attached to the 3.6-liter flat six. That engine makes 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque while the four-banger puts out 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. Neither engine comes with a noteworthy change in performance, but Subaru says it changed roughly 80 percent of the components in the 2.5-liter engine for improved thermal efficiency and friction reduction.

In plain English, the Outback is as much about efficiency these days as it is about tackling risky roads regardless of weather conditions.


Official ratings peg the car at 25 MPG around town, 33 on highways or 28 on average with the four-cylinder engine or 20/27/22 for the 3.6R. During my day-long drive in Newfoundland, Canada, (where you can actually still get a stick-shift Outback) the cars lived up to those ratings.
That isn’t the only place where the new Outback delivered as promised.

Go Anywhere Capability

Subaru makes some bold claims about what the Outback can do. The brand bills it as a “go anywhere, do anything” vehicle and that’s a reputation that past models lived up to. But with a continuously-variable transmission, is the Outback going soft?


Nope. With 8.7-inches of ground clearance, there aren’t many vehicles that can boast more space from earth to undercarriage. For example, the Audi Allroad has 7.1 inches to spare and the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe has 7.9. In fact, shy of Wrangling a Jeep, you’re probably not going to beat the Outback.

The car also comes with something Subaru calls “X-Mode.” While engaged, it idiot-proofs driving over rough ground by holding hill descent speeds for you and maintaining steady throttle application for sure-footed climbing. Or so the company says.

To prove it, Subaru set us up with a chance to drive the Outback over a series of off-road obstacles that people normally tackle with an ATV. While literally going “anywhere” is a lot of marketing hyperbole, you might be surprised by how sure-footed and capable this thing is. Not only did it climb up steep hills covered in loose rocks without hesitation, but one of the humps we crossed used every inch of available clearance.


Perhaps most remarkably, the four-cylinder model performed just as well over the same obstacles as the 3.6R. It works harder to do that, but you will have a hard time picking out the difference in performance over rough ground.

A Tale of Two Engines

It isn’t until you get out on a highway that the differences between the four- and six-cylinder engines become obvious. They both offer plenty of forward thrust at low speeds, but the extra torque and horsepower make a noticeable difference for passing other cars. But for every bit of extra merit those ponies and pound-feet provide, it’s hard not to wonder how worthwhile the bigger engine actually is.

The four-cylinder is adequate and more efficient than both the version used in last year’s Outback and the flat six. Historically, most people pick the smaller mill and that makes more sense now than ever before. Skip the six; you don’t need it.


Saddling Up

Even with the difference in power between the two engines, wide-open throttle acceleration doesn’t really feel that much different between the four and six. The bigger engine feels more responsive at first stab, but both cars feel pokey if you floor your right foot. 

Like other recent Subaru models, the side-view mirrors are attached to the door panels and that leaves more room for glass. The result is a thinner-looking A-pillar that makes it easier to see deep into a corner.

For a bulky, high-riding station wagon, the Outback handles corners reasonably well. The steering wheel feels light to turn and that makes the connection between road and car seem vague. Still, there is a noticeably progressive feeling to steering the car as you move off-center and it makes up for most of the ambiguity inherent to an underweighted steering wheel.

The company says it worked on improving sound deadening over the last model and while that’s probably true, there is still room for improvement. Wind noise at highway speeds isn’t loud enough to interfere with a conversation, but it’s also hard to ignore.


What Else Is New?

Subaru is packaging a new touch screen user interface and an enhanced version of its EyeSight safety system with the Outback.

Two touch screens are available: a 6.2-inch version or a seven-inch version that adds voice-activated navigation with live traffic updates. Both offer Pandora and Aha Internet Radio compatibility and are easy to use if a little bit buggy. If you launch either of those apps without connecting a phone via Bluetooth first, the computer will spend a full minute trying to boot up the app and locking out the ability to return to other audio functions.

Subaru used to be much more conservative about packaging its EyeSight safety system, but that isn’t the case with the Outback. Both the mid-level “Touring” trim and range-topping “Limited” models are available with the system as a part of the technology package.

The revised version of EyeSight is able to apply braking to mitigate a crash without driver input at higher speeds than before. It can also warn you of a vehicle approaching quickly from behind when you’re about to change lanes and, as before, includes adaptive cruise control. Subaru has increased the number of distance settings from three to four and designed EyeSight-equipped models to intensify either the left or right fog light during turns in those directions. 


Interior Improvements

Cloth seat upholstery is part of the standard equipment list, but leather is available. Hard plastic surfaces aren’t hard to find, but Subaru is being clever with how it disguises some of them to look like metal or even wood. More importantly, the interior feels well-constructed as if it will still look presentable after years of service.

The rear seats are available with heaters and can recline. Even with the optional sunroof, there’s also plenty of space for long legs and big heads. For 2015, Subaru added levers to the left and right sidewalls of the rear cargo area that lower the second row. There’s also an available power liftgate.


Rugged-Looking Exterior

The Outback looks like it could take one or two on the chin. More than ever before, its chunky body cladding and raised ride height give it a rugged look.

Base models come with 17-inch steel wheels while the Touring package adds aluminum alloys of the same size. There are also 18-inch versions as part of the Limited trim level.

The Verdict:

For 2015, the Outback improves in all the right areas without sacrificing a smidgen of what makes it such a hit with anyone who likes being outside. If you currently own an Outback, it’s worth planning a visit to the Subie store to trade up. If you don’t, there’s never been a better time to try one on for size. 

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked